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Ask Slashdot: Can an Old Programmer Learn New Tricks?

SpinyNorman Don't blame your age... (306 comments)

You're problem isn't that you're too old to learn, but rather that (per your own description) you were never that good to begin with. Any fool can do simple programming.

about a month ago

Ask Slashdot: Why Are We Still Writing Text-Based Code?

SpinyNorman Re:The more simple you make it the less complex it (876 comments)

In practice, I believe that the present text-based programming paradigm artificially restricts programming to a much simpler logical structure compared to those commonly accepted and used by EEs. For example, I used to say "structured programming" is essentially restricting your flow chart to what can be drawn in two dimensions with no crossing lines. That's not strictly true, but it is close. Since the late 1970s, I've remarked that software is the only engineering discipline that still depends on prose designs.

You appear to be thinking about a very limited subset of software where the essence is captured by the "two dimensional" control flow.

As Fred Brooks famously wrote: "Show me your [code] and conceal your [data structures], and I shall continue to be mystified. Show me your [data structures], and I won't usually need your [code]; it'll be obvious.''

Nowadays he probably would have updated that pithy formulation to include mention of your threading model as well as data structures.

If you start trying to visualize the dynamic behavior of complex synchronization-heavy multi-threaded programs or ones with significant non-trivial shared data structures, then I can assure you there'll be plenty of crossed lines!

The time when most programs could be described by flowcharts was probably 40 years ago. We've moved on a bit since then!

about 2 months ago

Ask Slashdot: Why Are We Still Writing Text-Based Code?

SpinyNorman Re:Rephrase (876 comments)

Haha - very Zen! Love it!

about 2 months ago

Ask Slashdot: Why Are We Still Writing Text-Based Code?

SpinyNorman We've mostly got the tools we need ... (876 comments)

I think part of what your missing is based on your own self-described lack of experience.. that you can write simple programs but get bogged down writing more complex stuff. Professional programmers don't really have this problem (or at least the experienced ones don't - there is a learning curve as in any field).

The main "trick" to designing/writing complex programs is to be able to think at many different levels of abstraction and therefore to "divide and conquor" the complexity. At each level of your program (think of it as a layered onion from the highest level on the outside down to the low level stuff of simple programs on the inside) you're going to be implementing one level of complexity/capability by using software components that are essentially only ONE level lower in capability than the level you're at... ditto for the next lower level, etc, all the way down. Designed this way, it's no harder to write the highest levels of the program than it is to write the lowest levels that you are familiar with.

Note though that the software components you're using at any level of your design are going to be domain-specific components that you've designed yourself to make the job easy - they are not going to be 100% off-the-shelf components (other than company internal re-use), other than at the bottom most layer of the design. It's having the right components that makes the job of implementing the next layer up easy (like the idea of the adjacent possible - without having "adjacent" components the corresponding "adjacent possible" is NOT possible, or at least is way more difficult). So, the real issue is not whether one is using a visual vs text-based method of composition but rather in having (creating) the right components at each level.

It's also worth noting that since programmers are the ones with the skills to create programming tools that we therefore necessarily have pretty much the tools we need. Good programmers are lazy (strive for minimalism), and arn't going to fight the same battles every day if they can build a tool to make their lives easier. Of course there's always a bleeding edge of new technology where the tools havn't yet matured (e.g. now that clock speeds are topping out and parallelism is replacing it, there's more need for better tools to deal with parallelism), but basically we DO have the tools we need.

about 2 months ago

PC Makers Plan Rebellion Against Microsoft At CES

SpinyNorman Re:This is good (564 comments)

Yep - 2014 will be the year of Linux (with hot grits).

about 4 months ago

SSD Manufacturer OCZ Preparing For Bankruptcy

SpinyNorman SSDs need NAND.... (182 comments)

OCZ is/was a horribly managed company, but IMO one of their other core problems is/was that they arn't a flash memory (NAND) manufacturer... Difficult to compete on price when their major SSD competitors (Intel, Samsung, Crucial/Micron, SanDisk) all have their own fabs...

about 5 months ago

Atlanta Man Shatters Coast-to-Coast Driving Record, Averaging 98MPH

SpinyNorman Re: "Driving like a fool" (666 comments)

Presumably you're assuming a 6 chamber gun with one bullet and "therefore" a 1-in-6 chance of getting shot.

However... due to the weight of the bullet, when you spin the chamber prior to firing, the bullet will tend (due to gravity) to end up in one of the lower vs the highest (firing) positions, so the average chance of getting shot should actually be somewhat less than 1-in-6.

about 5 months ago

Tim Cook May Not Know Why, But Samsung Is Winning in China

SpinyNorman Re:scale (327 comments)

The story is clearly about the competition between Apple and Samsung, and fact is that Samsung now makes more profit ($5B last in most recent quarter - that's earnings, not revenue) from smart phones than Apple does.

Apple has mostly saturated the US market and to save the stcok price from collapsing needs to find other markets for growth... China was one big hope, but it appears it's not happening. That's certainly news.

about 9 months ago

News Worth Buying On Paper

SpinyNorman Re:For how long...? (106 comments)

And now someone like Henry Blodget is trying to say that newspapers need stuff that can't be found elsewhere to survive, which basically means to become the local gossiping outlet?

That's your conclusion, not his.

Investigative journalism is indeed unique content - the product of unique real people with the investigative skills to unearth and develop these stories. Watergate didn't hit the news via a syndicated Whitehouse press release.

You're also going to find more compelling content in media that is published less frequently, or in occasional rather than daily editorials. At web-speed you're just going to get a firehose of daily chatter.

about 9 months ago

Compared to my 1st computer's memory ...

SpinyNorman 4,000,000 actually (587 comments)

From a NASCOM-1 1MHz Z-80 with 2KB of RAM in 1978 to a 3GHz PC with 8GB of RAM today.

about 9 months ago

Ask Slashdot: What Is the Most Painless Intro To GPU Programming?

SpinyNorman OpenCV (198 comments)

Try Intel's free OpenCV (Computer Vision) library, which includes GPU acceleration.

about 9 months ago

Tar Pitch Drop Captured On Camera

SpinyNorman Not really... (142 comments)


Old glass windows more likely show variability in width due to the way "plate" glass used to be manufactured... It was spun out into a sheet under centripetal force by swirling a blob of molten glass on a rod (the center swirly piece, broken off the rod, sometimes being seen in old cottage windows, etc).

about 9 months ago

I use a screen protector ...

SpinyNorman Screens?! (194 comments)

I don't need no stinking screens!

I browse /. using Lynx on an ASR-22 teletype hooked up to a 300 baud acoustic coupler, you insensitive clods!

about 9 months ago

What Features Does iOS 7 Need?

SpinyNorman Re:/. is a bad place for Apple feature advice (262 comments)

Adding features doesn't necessarily mean making the user experience/interface more complicated, although that's certainly the norm in the software industry.

For example, Siri has the potential to be the main user interface to new features without the user having to be aware of them at all unless they are using them.

The user interface also doesn't have to be the same for everyone - it could potentially adapt to the user such that a user that routinely invokes advanced functionality could choose to have the corresponding controls promoted to a more prominent place in the UI.

about 10 months ago

Dao, a New Programming Language Supporting Advanced Features With Small Runtime

SpinyNorman Re:Do they have tail-recursion or lazy evaluation? (404 comments)

I don't know what the case is with Dao, but optionally typed doesn't necessarily mean no type checking. For example, in Google's Dart, variables are optionally typed in the sense that if you choose not to statically declare their type then the type is determined dynamically by assignment - but they are stll typed.

about a year ago

How Should the Law Think About Robots?

SpinyNorman Re:Nonsense. (248 comments)

The vast majority of physical systems exhibit classical behavior at classical scales, and brains function as best we know at a VERY macro scale - on the level of cortical "minicolums" (hundreds of neurons) rather than anything less.

Before wasting time designing impossibly complex experiments to see if the brain is operating deterministically, let's first see is anyone can observe a single neuron not obeying the laws of classical physics...

I also think that the term "deterministic" is being used rather loosely in this thread... it's being used not not a matter of classical (=deterministic) vs quantum or randon, but rather one of physical vs dualistic (spiritual/free will).

about a year ago

How Should the Law Think About Robots?

SpinyNorman Re:Perhaps ours are too (248 comments)

Any possible proof of the determinism of the human brain would first require that we come to a complete understanding of the chemical and biological processes that control human thought in addition to how environmental and genetic factors influence those internal processes. I think this particular question will stay in the realm of philosophy rather than science for an extremely long time.

Why would the determinism of the human brain (or of anything subject to the laws of physics) be in question. The fact the the brain is extremely complex and that our subjective experience is that of "free will" is irrelevant... at the end of the day our brain (and the rest of us too) is just a big old chunk of biochemistry, and operates per the laws of physics just like anything else. We don't need to prove it's deterministic since we a priori know that it must be.

Of course, our behavioral responses and thoughts are a highly non-linear (chaotic) function of our sensory inputs and (forever changing as a result of experience) brain wiring (synapses), so our behavior appears non-deterministic (or more accurately, often hard to predict), but so does the bahavior of any chaotic system (e.g the weather).

Robots are no different that humans in that respect - their behavior will always be deterministic, but will be chaotic and difficicult/practically impossible to predict to the extect that we've given them brains with similar levels of complexity and experience-driven plasticity as our own. The robots of the future will surely be a lot more like us than like a roomba vaccum cleaner.

about a year ago

Are Contests the Best Way To Find Programmers?

SpinyNorman Good way to screen, not select (260 comments)

Decent programming skills are a requirement for a software developer, but only one of many skills required. Given how many people lie about their experience and fail *VERY* simple interview programming tests, having a programming test screening procedure wouldn't be a bad thing, but only to drop the worst, not to automatically hire the best.

about a year ago

LLVM Clang Compiler Now C++11 Feature Complete

SpinyNorman Re:except for garbage collection (291 comments)

OK - Thanks.

I guess reference counting would work in those situations too.

An alternative to GC would be an STL replacement with reference count-based destruction.

about a year ago



SpinyNorman SpinyNorman writes  |  more than 7 years ago

SpinyNorman (33776) writes "A new "string-net" theory of matter by researchers Xiao-Gang and Michael Levin, initially created to explain the fractional quantum hall effect (FQHE), has been shown to derive fundamental particals such as quarks and gluons, as well as naturally giving rise to Maxwell's equations of light. The new theory also predicts a new state of matter that appears to have been experimentally verified, and oddly enough also occurs naturally in a gemstone, Herbertsmithite, that was discovered over 30 years ago. The new theory builds on the work of Nobel physicist Robert Laughlin, and according to the New Scientist report has already attracted the attention of luminaries such as Fields medallist Michael Freedman who describes it as beautiful."

SpinyNorman SpinyNorman writes  |  more than 7 years ago

SpinyNorman (33776) writes "If you have an interest in animal tool use, you should already know about horses that scratch themselves with sticks, and crows using SUVs as nut crackers, but New Scientist is now reporting on a rather more sophisticated use — Chimps using sharpended sticks to skewer bushbabys hiding in holes in trees so that they can snack on them! This snacking behaviour seems mostly limited to the female of the species."


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